Port Huron may stop adding fluoride to its drinking water, changing a city procedure for the first time since 1974.
The discussion surrounding the issue has little to do with science or health. It’s more about the city’s coffers.
“I’ve made it very clear that everything is on the table when it comes to the budget,” Mayor Brian Moeller said.
Moeller learned recently that adding fluoride to the water, which costs the city about $15,000 a year, wasn’t mandated by state or federal governments.
On Monday, the council voted to suspend buying more fluoride. They also scheduled a public hearing on the subject for April 14.
“We have to make cuts. Some mandatory things you can’t cut. Some discretionary things you can.”
But for others, the issue’s all about health and science.
“We understand that cities during these tough economic times are under a lot of constraints,” said James McCurtis, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Community Health. “(Ceasing water fluoridation) is something we really urge the City Council not to do.”
Pediatric dentist Dr. Douglas Baribeau has been practicing in Port Huron for 34 years. He remembers fixing the teeth of kids who did not have fluoride in their water. It wasn’t pretty, he said.
He not only is a staunch supporter of keeping fluoride in local water, he thinks more should be added.
“(I try) to fix the problems brought about by not having enough fluoride in the water,” Baribeau said.
He added that if the council does away with fluoridation he would view it as a “crime” and a “poor choice in the budget.”
Port Huron resident Murray Johnston agreed.
“If they can put it in for $15,000, it’s a bargain,” Johnston, 83, said. “It’s a good thing for the majority of the community.”
Port Huron dealt with the issue in the mid-1970s when fluoridation began. State law mandated adding fluoride, despite a city referendum in 1966 rejecting water fluoridation. State law took precedence over city law and fluoridation went ahead.
In 1974, the city spent $8,760 to put the compound in the water supply.
The recent discussion about fluoride stems from a payment the City Council authorized with a unanimous vote on Feb. 11 to pay for its annual batch of fluoride. At that time, City Engineer Bob Clegg said state law mandated the action. Later, it was discovered the state has not required fluoridation since 1978.
After being contacted by a citizen who said she could not drink fluoridated water because of a thyroid condition, Moeller brought the item back to the council’s attention.
Grand Rapids was the first American city to put fluoride in its water.
At least two other local municipalities, Ira Township and Sandusky, don’t fluoridate water.
“It’s not up to me,” Mayor Pro-Tem Jim Fisher said of the issue and his personal opposition to adding fluoride to water. “Fluoride is cumulative in your body. … There’s a fairly large body of scientists that believe it’s not good for your health.”
In January, Scientific American reported “some recent studies suggest that over-consumption of fluoride can raise the risks of disorders affecting teeth, bones, the brain and the thyroid gland.”
The DEQ requires fluoridation limits to remain below about 1 part per million. Dan McKenzie, Port Huron’s water plant supervisor, said the city rigidly toes that line.
Usually the city dumps one or two bags a day of sodium silicofluoride — the fluoride — into the water system.
As he walked through the plant on Tuesday, he came upon two pallets stacked high with 50-pound bags of concentrated fluoride pellets, enough to last the city until the end of April.
According to the Scientific American article, more than 60% of the nation drinks fluoridated water, which includes 46 of the country’s 50 largest cities. But, writes the report’s author Dan Fagin, “Scientific attitudes toward fluoridation may be starting to shift.”
If they have, City Engineer Bob Clegg hasn’t heard about them.
“The (Michigan Department of Environmental Quality) has always promoted and supports the use of fluoride in water at proper concentrations.